Chinese Realpolitik: Reading Beijing's World-View

Courtesy Reuters

Scholars and policy analysts seem almost obsessed with China's continuing rise toward the status of a great power. Debates rage about whether there is a "China threat" to East Asia or the United States, how to measure China's present military and economic power, and which trends best project China's growth into the next century. Less attention has been given to how Chinese government analysts view their own security environment. Because they influence the thinking of government decision-makers and are privy to their thoughts, an analysis of their views on security is valuable. By providing a better understanding of both China's baseline realpolitik view of international politics and two significant divergences from that baseline -- Beijing's attitudes toward Japan and Taiwan -- such a study can help contribute to a more prudent American East Asia strategy.ffi

China may well be the high church of realpolitik in the post-Cold War world. Its analysts certainly think more like traditional balance-of-power theorists than do most contemporary Western leaders and policy analysts.ff For example, although China has not actively opposed multilateral humanitarian efforts, the rationales for international missions in Bosnia, Somalia, and Haiti are alien to the thinking of most Chinese analysts. They are also much less likely than their Western counterparts to emphasize political, cultural, or ideological differences with foreign countries. The United States considers the "enlargement of areas of democracy" a core element of its grand strategy, but China has made almost no effort, with the possible exception of its relations with North Korea, to export its ideas about "market socialism."

China is not interested in pressing either allies or rivals to comply with global norms of human rights. On occasion, it will return fire when a country criticizes its human rights record, but this seems purely tactical. It is hard to believe that Chinese elites are truly concerned with the plight of Native Americans, African-Americans in south central Los Angeles, or Turkish guest workers in Berlin. Chinese analysts raise these topics

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